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14 October 2013

'None of the Above' option in election

Recently Supreme Court of India has asked the Election Commission of India to add the 'None of the Above (NOTA)' option in the Electronic Voting Machines. This will come into effects from the elections to the five states in India, scheduled later this year.

Even now this option is available. Currently, if you do not like any of the candidates, you can exit without voting for any of the candidates and express your displeasure in the register kept with the Election Official at the venue of the Election. There are two problems with this. Unlike Voting (showing preference) which is a secret process, rejection (Showing displeasure) is not a secret process. This means that you might end up in the bad books of all the political parties (and they have a very long memory). Also, there is no way to prevent someone from casting fake votes in your name because there is no way to block your vote even if you did not want to vote for anyone. 

People circumvent this and make their displeasure known by Voting for multiple candidates and making their votes invalid. This is a round about process.

Supreme Court addresses this anomaly by bringing the rejection also as a part of the voting process. As per the rule, if more than 50% of people in a constituency reject all the candidates, the elections will have to be redone. 

There is no doubt that this is a good measure. It gives a lot of power to the electorate, the common man. It also puts a lot of pressure on the political parties to field honest, upright and capable candidates in the election. This will ultimately be good for the country by helping to cleanse the political cesspool in the country.

Of course, the government objected to this in the Court. Review petition is still going on. Government's contention is that elections are a process of 'Selection' rather than 'Rejection'. Bringing in NOTA option will make it a process of 'Rejection'. This is not what the framers of constitution had in mind.

The government's case is weak, I think. After all the option to express displeasure with the candidates already exist. Only thing that the court has done is to formalize the option and linked this option to the ultimate result in the process.

Government will probably lose this case, 

I can see that it has a lot of good points. But still, I am uncomfortable with the decision. 


The reason is that there are two groups of voters in India with different stakes in the election. One is the rural / urban poor and the other is the urban educated, well off class. Both these groups have different emotional investments in an election. For the poor, elections have real direct consequences. For one, they are main beneficiaries of government programs and any delay caused by uncertainties due to delayed elections will impact them directly. 

These folks do a lot of analysis of the positions of various candidates before voting. They know that both of the candidates are bad but they also know what they can expect from each of them. They are very clear of their choice and thery are also clear that their choice is 'first among equally corrupt'. 

As far as the other class is concerned, the elections are more in the nature of esoteric, once in a while programs for which they get holidays. Many of them do not take the trouble of applying for election cards and even if they have the same, they do not go and vote in the elections. 'Understanding the positions of each candidate?' 'Sorry yaar, no time. I have to post in blogger and update status in FB. And what is the point? Both Congress and BJP are both sides of the same coin. I am going to reject both the parties anyway, Nothing is going to change even if any party wins. Who has the time to vote?'.

This is my worry. The NOTA process expects the electorate to invest a lot of emotional energy and personal involvement in the election process. To expect  a class - which comes out against rape when only when one of their ilk is raped, the class which demand and accept dowry and which is more invested in the next trip to US than the desultory, boring aspect of electing the people to rule them -  to understand and evaluate the nuanced positions of various political parties, come to an educated decision, go to vote and then elect or reject the candidates? I think it is too much to expect.

Well, I am an eternal optimist. I keep hoping that Rahul next door, who parties all night and boozes till cows come home, will somehow become a responsible voter and choose NOTA judiciously.

Lets hope for the best.

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